When I explain to people at work why I want the day off, they all look sympathetically at me. And this feels weird. You see, I'm ok with it. Really ok. I was sad when Dad died, but in all honesty since that day it's been a relief. Complicated relationships are like that. In his death I found the key to unlock myself from all the crap that went with being part of his life. Today is Father's Day and I'm watching people online having great days, and talking about how great their Dad is or how much they miss him if he's passed away. I don't have these feelings at all.
My time with Mum was spent talking, eating and yes we may have finished a bottle of wine together. We talked as we do about Dad, but also about her past. I learn something new from each one of these chats with Mum. I had known she had a horrendous childhood, beaten and verbally abused by her Mother. Last year I realised that there were clearly mental health issues going on with the Grandmother I'm glad I never met. This year I found that she only did these awful things to Mum when her Father was out. She was grabbed by her plaits and dragged across the room in front of one of Mum's school friends, who ran from the house after witnessing the violence. Mum was smacked, burnt with an iron, had scissors thrown at her (which landed in her foot) and was told she was worthless repeatedly. It's no wonder she was married at 18 and emigrated to Australia from England with her new husband, David (her soul mate). What is more remarkable is that she couldn't be more different. She is gentle and supportive, kind and generous. She escaped the plight that so many people do - becoming their parents.
Her problem was that in the way the past haunted her. She had my brothers but was widowed at a young age. She then married my Dad. She told me this visit that he wooed her. But once they were married Dad's cantankerous and negative side appeared. We all grew up with a man who bellowed and that we cowered from. He never said please or thank you, never told anyone he loved them or even that they'd done a good job. We could have always done better. A short fuse and an angry temperament. He could be funny and smart, but my memories of him are mixed with so much crap. This is the difficult thing.
Mum nursed him as his health failed. I'm surprised she didn't smother him with a pillow! There were many times he deserved it, making her feel worthless over the years. But this speaks volumes about her, and not so much about him. Mum mentioned that one of the health care nurses who visited while Dad's health was deteriorating said her Dad worked with Dad. Awkwardly she smiled at Mum and said that Dad had a reputation at his workplace...and it wasn't a good one. I laughed. So Dad pissed off a lot of people he worked with. There he goes again, pushing people away. He was a man of his generation and emotionally crippled. Shoot first and ask questions later.
As Mum told me this story I had a realisation. Here we were, two generations of women who had turned out the opposite of their dominant parent. She is the heart of our family and cares about us all. And me, well...I've realised that even with my cynical Gen Xness, I am an optimist. I smile frequently and laugh a lot. My default is to find the silver lining in the darkness. And if it all turns to crap I have a cry, but can pick myself up again. I know this is a gift. Emotionally I'm out there, heart on sleeve. Friends are important and I actually like to be liked.
Mum had gotten out some old photos to show me. I had another realisation. There in the photos of her youth I saw myself. I always thought I looked more like Dad, but there was my smile, my nose, my eyes and cheeks. I had never noticed this before. It's a really lovely feeling.
We talked about getting older and the gloriousness of learning to be nicer to yourself. You can say that you're ok just as you are...and believe it. I am lucky in that I married the president of my fan club. Peter always tells me I can do anything and it is through his eyes I am learning to see myself as ok. Mum said that she has finally found herself without someone constantly putting her down - from her Mother to her second husband. She is learning to be ok with herself, in her seventies. We are both lucky that we found our way there, eventually. And figured out how to be the opposite of the people who emotionally hurt us. Maybe somehow I figured out how to be more like the parent I love the most.
The photo where I saw myself in my Mum
Older and happier
Dad at a young age. Grumpy even then.